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From Belfast to Bogotá: Monica McWilliams promotes the role of women in peacebuilding

October 10, 2016
Est. Reading: 4 minutes
Monica McWilliams in Bogotá Colombia with members of Interpeace Latin America and One Million Women for Peace. Photo credit: Arnoldo Gálvez.

One week before the Peace Agreements were signed, Monica McWilliams, Vice Chair of Interpeace’s Governing Council and an expert on Conflict Resolution and Transitional Justice, travelled to Colombia to support the women and men who are working to build peace in the country. As leader of the peace negotiations in Northern Ireland, McWilliams has become a role model for peacebuilders around the world. During her visit, which was organized by the Interpeace Regional Office for Latin America in partnership with Alianza Para la Paz and the initiative One Million Women for Peace, she participated in several events and discussions in support of women’s role in peacebuilding processes.

Monica McWilliams in Bogotá, Colombia, with members of Interpeace Latin America and One Million Women for Peace. Photo credit: Arnoldo Gálvez.

Women Choose Peace in Colombia

Recognized for her invaluable contribution to the empowerment and participation of women in peace processes, Monica was welcomed by one of the largest peace initiatives in the country. “One Million Women for Peace was inspired by Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition, co-founded by Monica McWilliams. Welcome to Colombia, Monica!” Gloria Flórez, Colombian Sociologist and member of this movement shared her gratitude and joy during one of the events held in Bogotá. One Million Women for Peace is an initiative that began when the peace talks in Havana progressed. Colombian women from across the country, from different backgrounds and ideologies, began to mobilize, motivated and excited that the end of the armed conflict was near.

Monica McWilliams, spoke with 20 representatives of the movement in a private meeting held at the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Colombia. During the meeting, she shared her experiences and lessons learned from participating in the peace negotiations in Northern Ireland and motivated them to stay strong and demand women’s participation: “Look for diversity and involvement of all women representatives from different sectors and territories…The strength of One Million Women for Peace is the representation of political differences.”

The members of the movement also shared with Monica their concerns and aspirations for the future, describing that the armed conflict not only claimed the lives of thousands of Colombians, it also destroyed the trust between civilians. A couple of hours later, these insights were shared with more than 200 women at the University of La Salle. The speakers at the event “Women Choose Peace” were Congress women, human rights defenders, activists and peacebuilders. Each one of them spoke about seizing this historical moment and working forwards to end violence and fight for equality and peace. Colombian Human Rights defender, Claudia Mejia Duque, expressed: "If Colombia manages to place equality with women at the center of its priorities, we will live in peace."

Two days before the Peace Agreements were signed, One Million Women for Peace organized a concert to celebrate the end of the armed conflict. Thousands of women and men gathered in the Peace Plaza in Barranquilla in a historical event: “Women Sing for Peace.” Monica McWilliams joined a number of performers, artists, and activists in celebration: "Let us not be prisoners of history. Let the History of Colombia begin today."

Monica McWilliams at the Concert "Women Sing for Peace," in Barranquilla, Colombia. Photo credit: Arnoldo Gálvez.

Before the concert, Monica also participated in a discussion hosted by One Million Women for Peace. She was joined by women from across the country and urged them to fight for inclusion and to make sure that women were involved in every step of the process.

Working to build lasting and stable peace

The Interpeace Regional Office for Latin America, and its partner organization Alianza Para la Paz, have been facilitating a participatory dialogue process within the Colombian Police, on the role of police in peacebuilding. Ana Glenda Tager, Regional Director of Interpeace Latin America explains, "The ceasefire is important but it is just the beginning of true peace."  Therefore, as part of her visit to Colombia, Monica also participated in an event about “Gender, Police and Peacebuilding,” held at the Police Graduate School in Bogotá. The police force is a key institution in building peace, not only to provide security for the citizens of a country, but also to contribute to the necessary cultural transformation, which will ensure that a non-violent resolution of the conflict will be sustained.

Monica addresses police force

Monica McWilliams at the Police Graduate School in Bogotá, Colombia. Photo credit: Arnoldo Gálvez.

McWilliams expressed how the role of the police force has been essential in the successful resolution of the conflict in Northern Ireland. She addressed hundreds of female Colombian police officers and reminded them that the police force must represent the entire population, not only the rich and powerful, but all citizens in the country. She added that in order to achieve this “the police must be transparent, must not make decisions secretly or collude with politicians.” At this event Monica was joined by high ranking female police officers, politicians and activists, who spoke about the importance of women’s role in peacebuilding. Irma Perilla, director of Thought and Social Action, PAS, assured: "Women, by vocation and by nature, are peacemakers. We call for dialogue and coexistence.”

After 52 years of armed conflict, Colombians are now faced with a number of challenges to transform their adversities. Monica McWilliams’ visit during this historical moment, not only encouraged women and men to stay strong and keep moving forward to build peace, it also helped reinforce the role of women in overcoming obstacles to lasting peace. At the end of her conference she expressed: "Peace is built slowly, with patience and persistence."

Monica with police force

Monica McWilliams with members of the Colombian Police force. Photo credit: Arnoldo Gálvez

Watch photo album of Monica McWilliams visit to Colombia here.